support Howling Bells
author TL date 11/11/11 venue Falkoner Salen, Copenhagen, DEN

The music industry is a young business. Not in the sense that it hasn't been around for a while now, in that sense, other businesses are certainly younger, no, what I mean is that most of the people whose names are up in music, especially rock music, tend to be pretty young. Most bands you hear about are lucky if they stick together past one or two albums, and plenty more break up before even that, indeed, before you ever get a chance to hear about them. So when you frequent concerts, it's probably not so strange that most bands you see will act on stage like their live performance is sort of a work in progress. Not tonight however. Tonight I am at Falkoner Theatre seizing an opportunity to see Elbow, a band whose 20 years and five albums worth of history have given them plenty of time to perfect both their music and their stage-show. It seems I've arrived in perfect time, as the crowd is thin and the support band is only just about to go on, so I hastily stash my bag in the cloakroom and shell out the cash for the somewhat pricey pints they sell here, and then march up as close to the stage as possible, to get a good look at warm up performers Howling Bells

Howling Bells

Howling Bells are a quartet who, having relocated from Australia to England, have put out three albums in their seven years of existence and toured with the likes of Coldplay and The Editors. I however, have never heard of them, so my encounter with their relaxed, moody indie/folk/rock is, judging by the look of it, every bit as novel as that of the average person in the audience at this point. Not that there are many, as the rearmost two thirds of Falkoner Theatre are still gapingly empty, which seems to be dampening the spirit of frontwoman Juanita Stein and her three bandmates to a point where they initially seem to just calmly go through the motions. The band seemingly plays well, and Stein shows off her expert vocal skills, but with little dynamics going on between band and audience, the set seems destined to being mere background music for the consumption of the night's first couple of beverages. Gradually however, the crowd grows a bit, and when Howling Bells go for one of their not so relaxed numbers, it's hard not to feel like, "hey, something's going on now". Maybe the band is feeling that people are listening as well, because they seem to cheer up a bit, and Juanita casually opens up to the audience, telling us a little story about how she once had a fling with a Danish guy she met travelling, and how she was reminded of it seeing how good we all look. Little interactions like that spice the show up a bit, but still, other than that, Howling Bells make the kind of small impression that hardly lasts a week, and effectively, their grade must reflect that


By the time it's Elbow's turn to take the stage, the theatre has filled up considerably, dismissing my worries that the band would have a crowd much too small for the venue. I still tell my photographer on the day, Nikola, that he can easily find me when he's done with the standard three songs worth of photoing, but after Elbow plays their first three songs, the place has suddenly gone from full to packed, and listening to the band's early effort, it's hard to not think they deserve it. I worry that the sound is a bit too low, what with initially being able to hear a lot of conversation under the songs, but as Elbow build their progressions from simple beginnings to layered climaxes, you also gradually get the proper feeling of the music giving you a pleasant punch in the stomach.

In terms of playing well, Elbow show their experience by being impressively tight, seamlessly setting up each of the five bandmembers' contributions in the mix, as well as those of the brought along string quartet, which sits at the centre of the musical ensemble that surrounds lead singer Guy Garvey. The playing and sound is so meticulous, it really seems more fitting to think of Elbow more as an orchestra than a band, with the remaining members standing back and taking care of business, while allowing Garvey to inhabit the spotlight and interact with the audience. And interacting with the audience is something the man is certainly a pro at, both gesturing to excite us while singing, and approaching us with class and elegance between songs. Several memorable exhibitions of which we witness tonight. At the first little pause in the show, some overly eager and intoxicated fellows over on the left side of the floor try to get his attention by being a little too shouty for his taste, so he calmly yet firmly answers them "You lot from England? Yes? Well, thank you for coming. Now shut the hell up", smiling in just the manner that lets you know he means it, yet prevents the mood in the venue from becoming at all hostile.

As we must soon recognise, Garvey is not just a veteran between songs, he is also a masterful singer, seamlessly matching his album performances live, often taking his very mature and manly voice to places that most mature, manly men would struggle to squeek out notes from. And he knows how to improvise, as he soon proves, instigating a singalong by asking questions of a young boy near the front, and having the boy's answers sung to small melodies he makes up as he goes. It's a fun spectacle, until the point where it ends in Garvey singing out the vocal hook of one of the band's hardest hits "Grounds For Divorce", which takes the show to a new high, and really seems to please the gathered audience. About the audience though, it's a queer one tonight if I may say so. Between songs, Elbow get shouts and whistles and applause at a volume so thunderous it would be fit for the national football team beating Sweden, yet while the songs are being played, mostly are only listening casually, not dancing, bopping or indeed looking like they know too much of the music all that well - some even seem to think it's perfectly cool to lead conversations while a quality band is performing virtous music on stage, summoning up murderous urges in this otherwise attentive reporter.

Fortunately, there's enough to turn one's attention to on stage, where Elbow are elegantly strolling through material both old and new, clearly giving songs from the recent "Build A Rocket Boys!" generous room in the setlist - Which is good, considering just how good numbers like "Lippy Kids" and "Neat Little Rows" sound being brought to life tonight. Garvey soon shows more of his playful side, stopping the beginning to an duet between him and pianist Craig Potter short, when Potter apparently hits the wrong chord. Before insisting to start over, Garvey asks the crowd to help them get going in this manner: "Everybody, help Craig out here.. Take a deep breath.. (people comply) .. Now a deep sigh.. (people: Aaaah) .. Say; We're with you Craig.. (we're with you Craig!).. Say; You can do it Craig.. (you can do it Craig) .. Say; Don't mess it up Craig..! (people still repeating) .. Say; We paid good money to be here Craig.. (still repeating!) .. so seriously, don't mess it up Craig!". Whether or not the humor carries over in writing, it certainly takes a minute for both Potter and the crowd to swallow their laughter, upon which him and Garvey start the song over and proceed to perform it as flawlessly as though nothing had happened.

The show carries on in this smooth manner, with the band sounding immaculate and Garvey activating the audience with hand waving and clapping along, and filling in more antics between songs (for instance we get to hear how awful he finds the music in the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus", and that we should recommend it to some people we really don't like). The only thing to really critically observe here is that Elbow seem a tad self-indulgent at times, making a big deal out of sharing a toast on stage, in honour of this being their twentieth year on stage, and generally stretching their songs for quite a few more bars than most bands probably would. But then, when you operate on such a high level of consistency in pretty much every aspect of your performance, the question is if it isn't entirely justified.

What is justified in any case, is saying that Elbow sound flat out sublime in songs such as "The Night Will Always Win" and "Open Arms", the latter of which closes the regular set in a grand manner. It is followed by the audience showing its best side, immediately taking up a chant of "Ground For Divorce"'s irresistible hook, and keeping it up with no relent until the band eventually comes back. They do so carrying the trumpets necessary to kick off encore opener "Starlings", which is the first in a final set of thrills presented to us. The show is capped off with "On A Day Like This", which fittingly ends with by far the biggest singalong of an evening when Elbow proved to deliver in every category you could expect from them. To say the experience was exquisite would be fitting, and yet one wonders, if members of the crowd had known more than few songs each, and maybe been keen to sing along and move without needing to be commanded to do so, couldn't it have been straight up magical? Probably so, but still, it was pretty damn good.


All Photos courtesy of Nikola Majkic

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